"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

— A Commentary on the First Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Third article: whether God exists (cont.)


These proofs start from the more evident signs of contingency and proceed to discuss those of deeper significance, namely, from the very beginning of motion, which obviously is contingent, and they proceed to discuss the composition and imperfection even of beings that existed before our time, for instance the stars and the whole world of physical entities, or else they proceed to discuss the composition of any finite being whatever, even if it had no beginning. The ordaining of any finite being whatever to some end is also considered, for instance, even of any finite intelligence whatever, whose object is truth.

As regards the terminus of these five proofs, they manifest: (i) the necessity of a first cause, as first mover, first uncaused cause, first necessary being; (2) the perfection of the first cause, as most perfect, most simple, and the ordainer of all things to an end. Hence these five proofs start from the more elementary principles, from those already known to us, and they proceed gradually to a consideration of those that are of deeper significance and of greater perfection. This will be more clearly seen in the exposition of the proofs. The orderly arrangement of these proofs excels by far that presented by the theologians who preceded St. Thomas.

We shall see farther on that the other traditional proofs are easily reduced to these five, particularly the proof based on the contingency of mind, which refers back to the third way; and to the fourth way are referred the proof based on the eternal verities leading up to the maximum in truth, and the proof based on the natural desire for the sovereign good leading up to the maximum in good. Also the proof based on moral obligation that leads to the admission of a supreme Ordainer and Lawgiver refers back to the fifth way.


There is indeed a general proof which is readily understood by the natural reason or the common sense, and which includes confusedly the other proofs. It has its foundation in the principle that is derived from the principle of causality, namely, that the greater or more perfect does not come from the less perfect, but the imperfect comes from the more perfect. This principle, especially as expressed in its primary negative form, is self-evident, even for the common sense, and it concludes confusedly the principles of the five typical proofs. For the principles of the first three proofs show clearly the necessity of a first mover, a first uncaused cause, a first necessary being, and the principles of the other two proofs clearly denote the perfection of the first cause, since the imperfect is evidence of the most perfect Being, and the orderly arrangement of things of a supreme intelligence.

Hence this general demonstration, although in itself somewhat vague, is very strong, for it contains virtually the probative force of the five typical proofs. The natural knowledge of God's existence finds expression in it, and the spontaneous certitude resulting from it, which is prior to strictly philosophical certitude is confirmed by this latter. It holds its own against objections, even though it may not give a direct answer to particular difficulties.

This most general proof may be presented in the following form: The greater does not proceed from the less, the more perfect from the less perfect, but contrariwise; but men, who contingently exist, have being, life, intelligence, morality, and sometimes holiness; therefore there must be a first Cause which possesses, by reason of itself and eternally, these perfections of existence, life, intelligence, and holiness. Othcrwise the greater would come from the less, as the proponents of absolute evolutionism are obliged to admit, and it is by recourse to this method of absurdity that God's existence is proved, who is absolutely perfect and distinct from the world.

The principle of this general demonstration refers back to the negative formula of the principle of causality, long ago expressed by Parmenides, who said: "Nothing is made from nothing," which means that without a cause nothing comes into being. But if the greater or more perfect were to come from the less perfect, then this greater degree of being would be without a cause. Hence it is the common saying that after creation we have not more of being but more beings. This means that we have not more of being by way of intensity, or more of perfection, because whatever of perfection there is in the world pre-existed in God in a more eminent way.

The minor of this proof is a fact admitted by all. The principal perfections in the world are existence, life, and intelligence; and these are found in human beings. But evidently human beings are contingent, because they are born and die.

Hence the conclusion is, that there is an eternally existing being, life, and intelligence; more than this, there is an externally self- existing Being, Life, and Intelligence. Otherwise, if there were only
eternally existing contingent beings, since these have not in themselves the reason for their existence, they would have no reason for existing. Any contingent being does not necessarily require another
contingent being as its cause, but they both of necessity require the first necessary Being.

This demonstration is therefore most forceful, even though it still fails to give a definite answer to the particular difficulties that we shall afterward have to examine. This explains why the certitude
of natural reason or of the common sense persists, even what though it may be incapable of giving a definite answer to all the force objections. In this sense the saying is true, that a thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, provided they do not destroy the middle term in the demonstration of the declared conclusion, or its principle, but are, as it were, from some extrinsic source.

We have elsewhere examined these five proofs,(113) which St. Thomas has expounded in various works of his.(114) We shall now, however, briefly consider them as they are given in the Theological Summa, and as they are further elucidated in the subsequent articles exist, of the same work.

Each of these proofs starts from some established fact (of motion, of conditional causality, of the presence of contingent beings, their imperfection, of order in the world), and it ascends to God by the
principle of causality and its corollary, namely, that there is no regress to infinity in a series of directly subordinated causes.


The fact: "It is certain and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion." It is a question of motion or the change taken in its widest sense, first, indeed, of physical change (whether substantial, local, qualitative, or quantitative), which latter is by way of augmentation. We are also concerned, as is evident from this article,(115) with the spiritual motion of our intellect and our will.
The principle: "Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another." This principle is necessary and most universal. For motion is the transition from potentiality to actuality, or from indetermination to determination. "But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality except by something that is in actuality . . . ; now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect." In the same being, to be sure, one part of it can move the other, as in the case of living beings. But if the part that moves, is itself moved, by a motion of the higher order, then this requires an external and higher mover.(116)

Moreover, there can be no regress to infinity in a series of essentially subordinated movers. We are not concerned with past movers, as in the series of generations either of animals or of men; for these movers are accidentally and not essentially subordinated, and their influence as such has ceased. "Hence it is not impossible," says St. Thomas, "for man to be generated by man to infinity." (117) But it is contrary to reason for the absolutely sufficient reason or first cause of motion to be explained by this past and even infinite series of movers, which also themselves are moved. If this series is eternal, it is an eternally insufficient explanation of motion, and is not its reason for this.

We are concerned, therefore, with a series of actually and essentially subordinated movers. St Thomas says farther on: "It would be impossible to proceed to infinity, if the generation of this man
depended on that man, and on an elementary body, and on the sun, and so on to infinity." (118} Thus we say that the moon is attracted by the earth, the earth by the sun, and the sun by another center of attraction. But in this ascending series there can be no process to infinity. For if all the essentially subordinated movers receive that impulse which they transmit, so that there is not a prime mover which imparts movement without receiving it, then motion is out of the question. So a clock, even if you increase the number of movers, wheels, will never run without a spring, or without the ductility or elasticity of some metal, or without some weight that acts as its driving power.

Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, which is set in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God as He is nominally defined. The first mover is immobile, not with the immobility of inertia or of passive potency, which implies imperfection and is inferior to motion, but with the immobility of actuality, who does not need to be premoved so as to act. In other words, we must come to a first mover, who acts by himself, who is his own action,(119) and consequently his own being, for operation follows being, and the mode of operation the mode of being.(120) The prime and most universal mover of bodies and of spirits must, therefore, be pure Act, without any admixture of potentiality, both with regard to action and with regard to being; and hence, as will be clearly seen farther on,(121), He must be the self-subsisting Being.(122)

And so it is evident that this prime mover absolutely transcends the changeable world.(123) We shall see farther on (124) that the first Cause is free, and that when it wills, a new effect is the result of its eternal action, and that this has been eternally decreed by it.

Thus absolute evolutionism is refuted, according to which becoming or creative evolution, which underlies the phenomena, is the principle of all things. This is impossible, since becoming is not its own reason for this; for it includes a new element that is not the effect of its action, otherwise the greater would come from the less, being from nothing. This absurdity must be acknowledged by all who believe in a progressive evolution, in the course of which the more perfect is always produced by the less perfect.(125)


Index Top


113. See God, His Existence and His Nature, I, 242-372.

114. Cf. Com. in Physicam Aristoteles, Bk. VIII, lect. 9 f.; in Metaph., Bk. XII, 5f ; Contra Gentes, Bk. I, chaps. 13, 15, i6, 44; Bk. II, chap. 15; Bk. III, chap. 64; De verit., q.5, a.2; De pot., q.3, a.5; Compend. theol., chap. 3.

115. Summa theol., Ia, q.2, a.3 ad 2um; cf. Ila, q.79, a.4; q.82, a.4 ad 3um; q.105„ a.2-5; Ia IIae, q.9, a.4.

116. Cf. ibid., Ia, q. 105, a.5. In this article the relation between cause and effect is considered in the inverse order. Many agnostics object to this principle, that whatever is in motion, is set in motion by another. They say that it has its foundation in a spatial image; mover and moved are conceived as being spatially distinct; but the mover may be a certain immanent force, as in the case of living beings.
Our reply is that this principle has not its foundation in a spatial image, but in the very idea of motion, whether this is local, or quantitative, or even of the spiritual order, as pertaining to the intellect and will that transcend space. Likewise the distinction between potentiality and actuality is not spatial, but ontological and necessary, in order that motion, even that which is spiritual, may be made intelligible with reference to being, which is the first intelligible. From nothing, of course, nothing is made, and being does not come from what is (already determined) actual being; a statue does not come from what is already a statue. Therefore something comes from undetermined or potential being, for example, the statue is made from the wood.

Nor can it be admitted that becoming itself is simply as such prior to being, for that which becomes is less perfect than that which is, and the greater or more perfect is not produced from the less. Nor does the argument of the first way advance the supposition against pantheism, that there are several substances distinct from one another; even though there were only one substance that is in motion, we should still have to say that, whatever is in motion, is set in motion by another, or by a part of itself; and if this part is itself moved, then this requires a mover that is not spatially, but qualitatively and by its nature, of a higher order.

117. Summa theol., Ia, q.46, a.2 ad 7um.

118. Ibid.

119. Ibid., q.3, a.6; q.9, a. 1; q.25, a.1 ad 3um; q.54, a. 1.

120. Ibid., q.25, a.2.

121. Ibid., q.3, a.4.

122. Objection. According to the principle of conservation of energy, the quantitative totality of (actual and potential) energy remains constant throughout its various transformations. But, by reason of the influx from the first mover who is distinct from the world, there would be a change, that is, an increase, in this quantitative totality. Therefore, this influx is not admitted.

Reply. I distinguish the major: that the quantitative totality of energy remains say that, constant equivalently so, this I concede; that it is absolutely identical, this I deny.The minor is distinguished in the same way. In other words, the quantitative totality of energy remains constant inasmuch as a certain motion (for example, the local motion of my hands) ceases, and an equivalent motion is produced (for example, the equivalent heat in my hands); but the prior form of energy is only the secondary cause of the other form, and produces it under the invisible influx of the prime mover.

Moreover, from the very fact that there is transformation of energy, evidently it is not absolutely the same. Only in the cause that is its own action and its own being, and hence is not transformed, is there absolute identity. Likewise the quantitative totality of human energy remains about the same in the world, yet human beings undergo a change. In fact, it is the general rule that "the generation of one thing means the corruption of another." Finally, the principle of conservation of energy would not exclude the invisible influence either of our free will or of the first Cause, unless it were proved that the world is a closed system, constantly the same and removed from the invisible influence of a higher Cause. But this cannot be proved. Experience furnishes us only with an approximate proof that the productive energy and the produced energy are equivalent. Hence this principle no more conflicts with the conclusion of this first proof than does the old established principle that "the generation of one thing means the corruption of another."

123. Summa theol., Ia, q.3, a.8.

124. Ibid., q. 19, a. 3; q. 25, a.2 ad 3um.

125. Suarez (Disp. Met., 29, sect. 1, no. 7) objects to this first proof, giving as his reason that, although a mere potentiality cannot pass from this to actuality unless it is premoved, yet, in his opinion, virtuality or virtual act can reduce itself to actuality without being premoved. But our will is not mere passive but active potentiality, and is virtual act. Therefore it does not need to be premoved so as to act. Hence the principle of the first proof is not so universal and necessary as stated.

Reply. This objection is examined by John of St. Thomas (in Iam, q.2, disp. 3, a.2, no. 6). It is easy enough to solve the objection. St. Thomas, too, admits with Aristotle an intermediary between even active potency and its act or action. As examples of this we have artistic, scientific, or virtuous habits, which constitute the first actuality of potency. Therefore the question is whether this first actuality can reduce itself to second actuality without being premoved by a higher cause. St. Thomas denies this, because the first actuality is in potency as to its second actuality, as to something new and more perfect; for when the second actuality makes its appearance there is some becoming, something new that is coming into being. This becoming presupposes an active potency which was not its own activity, not its own action, in fact a potency which immediately before was not in action, but was only capable of action. Therefore this first actuality, which can be called the virtual act (or the virtuality spoken of by Leibnitz), cannot bring itself into action without being premoved by an agent of a higher order.

Prom this objection it is evident that Suarez, in rejecting the divine promotion as regards the act of our will, fails to perceive the probative force of St. Thomas' first proof. If now the will does not need to be premoved for it to act, then the greater proceeds from the less, the more perfect from the less perfect.


"Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God."

Thomas á Kempis

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"The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God's will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"God looks neither at long nor beautiful prayers, but at those that come from the heart."

The Cure D'Ars

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